How to Deal with Typical Marriage Problems

As we continue to read through John Gottman’s ‘The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work‘, this week we look at the second part of principle 5 – solving typical marriage problems.

Gottman says there are two types of problems in marriage– those that are solvable, and those that are perpetual. This chapter deals with several common issues that cause problems in marriage.

Let’s get to those typical marriage problems! Here’s Gottman:

Every marriage is faced with certain emotional tasks that husband-and-wife need to accomplish together for the marriage to grow and deepen. These tasks come down to attaining a rich understanding between husband and wife. A marriage needs this understanding in order for both people to feel safe and secure in it. When these tasks are not accomplished, the marriage feels not like a port in the storm of life but just another storm.

He says those tasks are the important work of marriage, and by working on the typical problem areas of marriage: Work Stress, in-laws, money, sex, housework, and a new baby, you can deepen your relationship.

So, for the rest of this post, I’ll hit some of the important things he covers about each of the six items listed above, plus the ‘task’ that we can try to become more proficient at while working in each area.

Work Stress Comes Against Making Your Marriage a Place of Peace

We are busier than ever. And what that stress does to a marriage is causes it to be a place of tension. Our task as a couple is to maintain and cultivate a place of peace.

From “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work“:

If you were feeling suddenly outraged by something your spouse did, realize that the incident may be overblown in your mind because you’re feeling so tense. Likewise, if your spouse comes home with a cloud over his head and your “what’s wrong?” Gets answered with a snarl, try not to take it personally. Here she probably just had a bad day. Rather than making the situation worse by lashing out, let go.Build time to unwind into your daily schedule.

Pick the right time and place to talk about difficult things.

In-laws Come Against your Solidarity in Marriage (We-ness)

Young couples come up against this quickly. Gottman says the usual tension is between the new wife and the mother-in-law, most times.

At the core of the tension is a turf battle between the two women for the husband’s love. The wife is watching to see whether her husband backs her or his mother. She is wondering,”which family are you really in?” Often the mother is asking the same question.

This was a big learning opportunity in our marriage! We had to learn to be a WE ahead of being what we were previously in our birth family. Here’s Gottman again:

The only way out of this dilemma is for the husband to side with his wife against his mother… One of the basic tasks of the marriage is to establish a sense of “we–ness” between husband and wife… His wife does indeed come first… He and his wife need to establish their own family rituals, values, and lifestyle and insist that his mother (and father) respect them.

Some other reminders from this section: Don’t speak derogatory words about your spouse to your parents. Also – don’t allow your parents to bad mouth your spouse in your presence!

Money Challenges your Freedom, Trust and Security in your Marriage

We all come to marriage with different views on all of these issues. Money can be a big one. I recently heard of several couples who hide a credit card from their spouse, and their “daily exercise” is to run out to their mailbox, so their spouse doesn’t find the bill! While that is funny – its not a solution to making money work in your relationship.

From “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work“:

Money is symbolic of many emotional needs– such as for security and power – and goes to the core of our individual value system.

We didn’t realize how not on the ‘same page’ we were about money when we began our marriage. Thankfully, We realized that we needed help. Gottman again:

What’s most important in terms of your marriage is that you work as a team on financial issues and that you express your concerns, needs, and fantasies to each other before coming up with a plan.

This book does offer a written plan – but it didn’t seem to be very user friendly. For us, we like to recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Program to get a good basis for budgeting and finances, then branch out from there, once you have a common language around money.

Sex Challenges your Appreciation and Acceptance of Each other

Most married couples enjoy sex, and would like for it not to be a burden on the way to the bedroom. A big obstacle, Gottman suggests, is being unclear about your desires.

The problem is that the less clear you are about what you do and don’t want, the less likely you are to get it. Sex can be such a fun way to share with each other and deepen your sense of intimacy. But when communication is fraught with tension, then frustration and hurt feelings too often result.

As a couple you have to make each other feel safe in your communication. Gottman suggests that you should be…

Learning the right way to ask for what you want, and the appropriate way to react to your spouses requests.… Most people feel so vulnerable about whether they are attractive to their spouse and a”good” lover, the key to talking about sex is to be gentle…when you talk to your partner about sex, your attitude should always be that you are making a very good thing even better. Even if you aren’t satisfied with your current sex life, you need to accentuate the positive.

Learn about your spouses likes and dislikes – then remember them! Bone up on your knowledge about sex – many times we base what we ‘think’ we know on unreliable sources (like friends when we were kids, or porn) instead of really knowing for ourselves what makes for great sex.

Related to that – we need to know about anatomy and physiology our ourselves and our spouse. You may think your spouse likes something you are doing, but it hurts or makes them uncomfortable due to lack of knowledge and communication on your part.

Housework Challenges your Teamwork and Fairness in your Marriage

Long and short: Men think they do more housework than they really do! Wives feel like they could do more! There should be a balance in your marriage about what each spouse does and does not do around your house.

When a husband doesn’t do his agreed–upon share of the house work, the wife usually feels disrespected and unsupported. Inevitably this leads to resentment and a less satisfying marriage. Many husbands just don’t understand why housework is such a big deal to their wives. They may not be slackers on purpose… when the husband helps, he feels he should be applauded– but instead his wife keeps demanding he do more, which makes him defensive and likely to do less.

Guys! We have to pay attention and step up in this area. If we do, the “nagging” we think we shouldn’t be getting will stop! Ladies, when you snip at your guy about not doing housework, you are going to get resistance. This is where learning to gently ease into conversations can be a blessing.

From “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work“:

Women find a man’s willingness to do housework extremely erotic. When the husband does his share to maintain home, both he and his wife report more satisfying sex life and in marriages where the wife believes her husband is not doing his share.The benefits to these marriages extend beyond the bedroom. In these relationships the women also have significant lower significantly lower heart rate during marital arguments, which means they are less likely to begin a discussion harshly and so avoid triggering that whole downward spiral of conflict involving the four horsemen and flooding that leads to divorce.

The right amount of housework, and the division of chores doesn’t have to be “equal” job for job – it just needs to be correct for your marriage – with both partners feeling there is a balance of responsibilities.

A New Baby Challenges you to Expand and Include your Baby in your Marriage

Kiddos are a blessing! And… they can cause difficulties in your marriage. It’s not just one or the other – its both! Gottman suggests that as a couple, you make sure the transition to parenthood is happening not just for mom, but for dad too.
Again, from “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work“:

… It has everything to do with whether the husband experience is the transformation of parenthood along with his wife or gets left behind. Having a baby almost inevitably causes a metamorphosis into mother. The experience is still life altering that if her husband doesn’t go through with her, it is understandable that distance would develop between them. While the wife is embracing a new sense of”we – Ness” that includes their child, the husband may still be pining for the old “us.”

Gottman suggests several helps in this area:

  • Make sure you keep up with your friendship. Hopefully you have developed a good friendship previous to the baby, which will make the transition easier.
  • Dad should do baby care. Moms, lay off if he does it different than you! If it doesn’t put the baby in danger, the child should have two different types of experience – right? You are a mom AND a Dad!
  • Dad should enjoy playing with the child. Get over the thought that the baby has no personality until they are older. They are very aware of you as parents and you can enjoy them when they are small – and you should!
  • Spend time together as mom and dad. Invest in your marriage. Still go on dates and don’t feel bad if you go to dinner and all you talk about is the baby. That happens, and it should. You are doing this new adventure together and the Baby is a huge new piece of your life.
  • Be sensitive to Dad’s needs. He is going to feel left out, so mom, make sure that you love your husband well during this time and give him love and attention he likes and desires.
  • Give mom some time off. Dad – you are now the man of the house, and your wife is going to be EXHAUSTED. Man up and Give her time away for herself or with friends. Or rework your schedule so you can be home earlier…She needs it for her sense of wellbeing and sanity!!

What did you get from this helpful chapter?

For the next several weeks we are reading John Gottman’s ‘The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work‘. It’s one of the original books on marriage that helped me begin this blog and podcast. I wanted to reread some of those first books to renew my dedication to healthy marriage, and also to go deeper for myself. You can join in by purchasing the book and reading along with us, and leaving comments here or at the Facebook group.


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